That's Lay-day Snackpants to you, buster. (amand_r) wrote in hlh_shortcuts,
That's Lay-day Snackpants to you, buster.
amand_r
hlh_shortcuts

Happy Holidays, grachonok!

Title: Provenance Unknown
Author: Kwanzaabot aka kerravonsen
Written for: grachonok
Characters: Rebecca Horne, Methos
Rating: PG
Wordcount: 2,330
Author's Notes: Thanks to dorothy_1901 for beta-reading.
Summary: A traveller visits Rebecca's castle, bearing a mystery.




Provenance Unknown




It should have been a stormy day when he rode up to her gates, a stormy day or the dark of the moon; there should have been mist and gloom, rain and lightening. His horse should have been whipped to a lather, stumbling its last steps. Such an momentous day should have been full of portents. But he was too good a horseman to abuse his steed in such a way, and too sensible to try to gain entry to a castle after dark. It was not a stormy day when he rode up to her gates; instead it was cloudy, a cool day in spring, when she first laid her eyes on Alexander Richardson. Not that that was his real name.

Who wouldn't use an alias when one's real name was a death warrant?

Rebecca did not hesitate to offer him hospitality; though he was a fellow Immortal, he would not challenge her on Holy Ground, and the former abbey was still consecrated. It was not the first time she had offered respite to an Immortal seeking safety, and it would not be the last. Though he hid it very well, he had the look of one pursued: a weariness not of body, but of soul. She hadn't been certain of that at first; it was not until the third day that she realized how much more relaxed he was than the day he had arrived. Good food and good books doubtless contributed to that.

"Are you looking for something in particular?" Rebecca asked, as she found him once again in the library.

"I feel like a beggar at a feast." He caressed the tooled leather spine of the first volume on the shelf. "So many books, so little time."

"You are welcome to stay," she said.

He raised an eyebrow. "Until I've read them all? That would be too great an imposition."

She smiled back at him.

-o-

"Have you ever wondered where Immortals come from?" Alexander said one evening after dinner. They sat comfortably in front of the fire, orange light and shadows dancing on their faces.

"Where all things come from," Rebecca said. "From the breath of creation."

"That is not an answer," he said.

"Then you have not asked the right question," she returned.

"Ah." His eyes glinted warmly; or perhaps it was just the firelight. "Let me put it this way," he continued. "Men come from men, beasts come from beasts, but Immortals cannot have children. So where do we come from?"

She leaned forward. "Are you certain that Immortals cannot have children?"

"I have seen much," he said. "I have never seen an Immortal with child. Our students are the only children we shall ever have."

"Then that shall have to be enough," she said, settling back in her chair.

"Enough? There are some who can never have enough. Never enough power, never enough wealth..."

"They are empty things," she said.

"Yes," he said softly. "So empty, and yet they tempt so many."

"What tempts you, Alexander?" she said.

"Besides a pretty woman?" he said with a smirk.

She rolled her eyes. "Besides a pretty woman... and books."

"You've answered the question for me," he said lightly.

-o-

"You have a gift, Rebecca," he said. "The gift of trust."

"How is trust a gift?"

"You give it to people, and they give it back to you. You are trusted because you trust. Not many people can do that." He gave a wry smile. "It will probably get you killed one day, but it's still a gift."

Her lips twitched with half a smile. "So cynical, Alexander."

He shrugged. "It keeps me alive."

"Mere survival is not enough," she said. "I want to live life, not live in fear, distrusting all around me."

"As do I," he said mildly, but his face was too calm, too smooth. "But 'mere survival', yes, that is enough for me. Survival..." His keen eyes pierced her, dark and restless. "You wanted to know what tempts me, Rebecca? Survival tempts me. Survival above all else. Survival above all others. Because I want to live. Because all things pass; the good and the bad, the people, the empires; they all pass away. Everything is fleeting, and I want to see it, I want to see it all. And for that, I would put up with anything."

"Even relentless pursuit?" Rebecca said.

His eyes widened for a moment; then he looked past her, frowning. "You may have a point."

So, she was right; he was being pursued. "I don't interfere with challenges," she said. "This is a place of respite, not a place to hide."

He gave a languid shrug, "If he hasn't hammered down your doors yet, I doubt he even knows where I am."

"And the next time?" she said, raising an eyebrow,

"I shall have to think on that," he said.

"You can't escape from the Game, Alexander."

"Of course not," he said, shaking his head. "This isn't about the Game."

"What is it about, then?" Rebecca asked.

"Myths and stories," he said with a sigh. "Myths and stories."

-o-

Over the next few days, Rebecca noticed Alexander's gaze rested on her more and more often, though he looked away quickly whenever their eyes met. She recognised the signs, and sighed silently. It would have to be dealt with, sooner rather than later; some men would take any friendliness as encouragement, and wouldn't stop until you had a sword pointing at their privates. She preferred to avoid that if she could.

"Alexander," she said quietly, while they were still at table that night, "you know I enjoy your company..."

"But I have outstayed my welcome?" he interrupted.

"Not yet," she said. "But I am not interested in a dalliance."

He blinked. "What makes you think that I'm looking for *that*?"

"When a man stares at a woman, it usually only has one meaning," she said.

"I haven't been -" he broke off. "I have, haven't I?" He shook his head. "You're a beautiful woman, Rebecca, who could stir the blood of any man, but I wasn't... You're a friend, a-" He stared at her, his pale face grown paler. "Holy mother of God," he whispered. "I *trust* you. I actually *trust* you."

She could see that it disturbed him more than any declaration of love would have. "You already said that trust was my gift, Alexander."

"That didn't mean that I expected to succumb to it," he said. "I have so many secrets, unspoken, but I could speak them to you and you would remain silent, wouldn't you?"

"I won't ask for your secrets, Alexander," she said.

"I know," he said. "That's why they're safe with you. Do you know how rare that is?"

"You're very old, aren't you?" Rebecca said.

A choked-off laugh escaped his lips. "You have no idea."

Her eyes twinkled. "Very, very old?"

"Perhaps."

She raised her eyebrows. "Very, very, very old?"

"We'll both be very very very old before I answer that question," he said. Which was an answer in itself.

"Is that why you were pursued?"

Alexander shook his head. "He didn't know who I was. He just knew..." he pulled a leather pouch from around his neck, "about this." He untied the draw-string of the pouch, and emptied its contents into his palm. Nestled in his hand was a round, multi-faceted crystal about the size of her fist. He held it out towards her.

As soon as she touched it, she felt a shock, like static, like a quickening. Her skin tingled. "What *is* it?" she asked.

"I don't know," he said, his voice edged with frustration. "The previous owner died before he could tell me. But you feel it, don't you?"

"Yes," she breathed, stroking one finger over the crystal.

He drew his hand away and put the crystal back in the pouch.

She blinked and shook her head. "That's..."

"Yes," he said. He leaned back and sighed. "I'm beginning to think that, whatever else it is, it's a snare and a trap. It does *something* with a quickening, but it doesn't make one invulnerable, as its former owner would attest."

"You killed him," Rebecca said.

He shrugged. "He challenged me. He seemed surprised that he lost."

She looked thoughtfully at the pouch he held in both hands on the table between them. "That is perilous."

"Too dangerous to keep, too dangerous to throw away," he said.

"Then we must destroy it," she said calmly.

He gaped at her. "*Destroy* it? Are you mad?"

"Are you?" she responded. "Does it have a hold on you already?"

He leaned back, moving his hands away from the pouch, holding them up before him. "Fine, fine, we'll destroy it," he said. "How?"

Rebecca smiled. "Meet me in the smithy tomorrow morning."

-o-

Though her feather bed was warm and comfortable, sleep evaded Rebecca that night. Her thoughts weren't on the mysterious crystal, but on the man who had brought it with him. He said he trusted her, but he wouldn't tell her his real name. The crystal was extraordinary, unique, disturbing, but he obviously considered it a lesser secret. He was old enough that being old made him a prize. *Is that why you were pursued?* she had asked, and his answer revealed more than he had intended: *He didn't know who I was.*

Who was he? Someone very old, someone notorious. And yet, how could someone so mild be someone notorious? Unless he wasn't really mild. Unless he was very, very cunning.

Her teacher had told her tales, tales to make the blood run cold. She stared at the ceiling and wondered.

-o-

Rebecca dismissed the smith when she noticed Alexander assessing the equipment.

Alexander raised an eyebrow.

"I think this is better done without witnesses."

"I suspect your smith thought we had other things in mind for his smithy," he said, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.

"Then I advise you to get the fire going - noisily."

"You're so certain I know my way around a smithy?"

"Pretty poor Horsemen you would have been if you could not shoe your own horses," Rebecca said.

He stilled, just for a moment, but it was enough to confirm her guess.

"My teacher was Aganesthes of Tiryns; old enough to remember the Horsemen," Rebecca continued. "There were four, he said, and the fairest of them all was the most cunning: Methos."

"If you know what I was," he said slowly, "why aren't you afraid of me?"

"What you *were*," Rebecca said. "Even the most evil man can repent."

His eyes glittered dangerously. "What makes you think I've repented? Perhaps I long for those days when we rode out of the sun, and all the world quaked in terror of our name."

"Then I must respect you as a man who resists temptation," she replied.

He let out a breath. "You are very good," he said.

-o-

The crystal would not melt. In a fire that would have turned iron white-hot, it sparkled and reflected the heat and light until they were all but blinded by it, but it did not melt.

Methos plucked it from the fire with tongs and plunged it into the trough of water. Steam burst into the air, but the crystal did not shatter from the sudden change in temperature. Not even a crack marred its perfect symmetry.

"What is it *made* of?" Methos said softly. "Not glass, not crystal, not diamond -"

"Not anything we want to keep," Rebecca reminded him. She picked up the crystal and put it back in its pouch. She placed the pouch on the anvil, and handed Methos a heavy mallet. "Smash it."

He raised an eyebrow. "Inside the pouch?"

"I don't fancy being cut by shards of flying crystal, do you?"

He nodded, and lifted the mallet. He swung it and hit the pouch, firm and true. They could hear the crunch as the crystal shattered. Methos tipped up the pouch; glittering shards poured out.

"Surely it can't be that easy?" he said.

A moment later they both gasped. Before their eyes the shards melted together, forming the crystal again, an unblemished whole.

"Apparently not," Rebecca said.

Methos narrowed his eyes and touched one finger to his chin. "I wonder..." He put the crystal back in the pouch and swung the mallet again. Again, the crystal broke. But this time, instead of tipping the shards onto the anvil, he turned in an arc, scattering the shards over the stone floor.

They waited; a beat, another. The shards lay there, inert.

Rebecca let out the breath she had been holding. "There's your answer."

"Perhaps," Methos said. "But is it a permanent one?"

When they gathered the shards together, the crystal re-formed; but not until *all* the shards were placed near each other.

"So," Rebecca said thoughtfully, "they must be scattered to the four winds."

Methos sighed. "And who shall scatter them? I am only one man."

Rebecca took the mallet from his hands and smashed the crystal again. She plucked out a shard from the pile and handed it to him. "Starting with you," she said. She picked up another. "And me." She poured the rest back into the pouch. "And my students."

"Your students?"

"I am good at finding students," she said. "From now on, each one will get a going-away present from me. That should scatter them far enough, don't you think?"

Methos smiled. "That might just work," he said. "So long as nobody tries to bring them together again."

"Only if someone thought it would make them invincible, and what fool would believe that?"

"People will believe what they want to believe," Methos said darkly. "Especially when something is a mystery."

She put a hand on his shoulder. "It won't remain a mystery forever."

Centuries later, Rebecca died at the hands of a fool, Methos fell in love, and a little knowledge was proven to be a dangerous thing. But that is another story.


END

Tags: 2009 fest, gen, methos, rebecca
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